"Be Hallowed" and "Mode"

by Jacob Glatstein, translated by Andrew Sunshine

“Be Hallowed” and “Mode” are the first two poems of a sequence entitled “Five Poems” published in Jacob Glatstein’s Dem tatns shotn / Father’s Shadow (New York: Matones, 1953). According to Jan Schwarz (Survivors and Exiles, p. 128), this volume marks a departure from the “kaleidoscopically crafted free-verse” and individuality of Glatstein’s earlier poetry to engage in “the collective task of mourning the destruction of East European Jewry.” In all but the last of the “Five Poems,” Glatstein ponders and explores Jewish prayer, especially the prayer of martyred Jews. “Be Hallowed” invokes the Mourner’s Kaddish and intimates that the praying of murdered Jews now sings through his verse. Similarly, in “Mode,” Glatstein suggests that his poetry, however wayward it may appear in form or content, is made of the same stuff and with the same deliberation as the prayers of the pious.

—Andrew Sunshine

You can find the original Yiddish poems in the Yiddish Book Center's Steven Spielberg Digital Yiddish Library, here

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Be Hallowed

Be hallowed to me, awesome Jewish night.
Flame-licked, fearsome night,
with all your flittering souls,
who just now touch my forehead
and the tip of my nose.

Small and childlike—
be thus to me, Jewish singing night,
filled with the mellifluent prayers
of little choir boys
whom poverty has scrubbed
and combed
to stand before God in new
shoes for the holidays.

Sing through me
in grand letters
faithful Jewish night.
In the wail from the women’s chapel,
in the tears of the elderly,
who fast themselves
down to the last drop of life,
until they become as luminous
and languid as angels
who stand before God
in white robes,
in the tear-spent joy
of redeemed
posthumousness.

 

Mode

My Jewishness had
a mode, a tune.
My Jewishness sang through
the hoarsest heresy.

I, a child, stood
several steps from God.
I prayed to Him
as an intimate.
Tasted the sense of each word,
as if before an examiner,
not from fear but naively cocksure

I will get a pinch on the cheek
for serving Him,
as if I had been
bar mitzvahed.

 

Andrew Sunshine is an Associate Dean of Students at Columbia University where he studied linguistics and has served as a member of the Editorial Collegium of the Language and Culture Atlas of Ashkenazic Jewry. He is the author of two volumes of poetry: Thyrsus and Andra moi, and other work has appeared in Literal LatteSalonikaIconoclastBorderlandsRag Shock, and Snake Nation Review